Inquiry hears FIFO workers avoid anti-depressant medication

A submission to the WA inquiry into FIFO and mental health has revealed a trend of non-reporting of mental health issues on remote worksites, due to fears about the impact on future employment.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary Steve McCartney told the inquiry yesterday about workers suffering from depression who do not use anti-depressants because of fears that drug tests would reveal their condition and affect future employment opportunities.

A survey of 300 workers conducted by the AMWU revealed the alarming trend, with one respondent making the following statement:

“A lot of people are too afraid to take antidepressants short term due to drug testing and as a result management find out a person is suffering from depression and then usually confidentiality is out the window and the whole team finds out.”

Another respondent said “In my experience people who admit to having mental health issues find it hard to keep a FIFO position as if they choose to take medication it comes up in urine tests and once it does the employer won’t have anything to do with them.”

McCartney pointed out the lack of adequate research or government oversight of the FIFO industries and potential adverse effects was a cause for concern, and one which must be met with corresponding studies.

He also applauded the WA Inquiry into Mental Health Impacts of FIFO Work Arrangements as a step to better understanding those impacts.

“While we are no longer working 14 weeks on and one week off without even a mention of mental health as we were during the 1980s, we still have a long way to go,” he said.

The AMWU submission also said up to 20 per cent of workers reported there were no mental health services at all on their sites.

“While companies favour FIFO work patterns because it relieves them of the burden of community development, it places an even greater positive obligation to care for the people they willingly take under their care,” the submission read.

“Mere passive provision of services is unacceptable and inadequate when, on a typical ‘four weeks on, one week off’ construction roster, a worker will be under the direct care of their employer for 292 days of the year.”

“A glossy pamphlet and telephone number will no longer suffice,” MacCartney said, in reference to phone-in counselling services that are the standard support provision at most FIFO camps.

The submission stated that despite exponential growth over the past two decades, FIFO work was self-regulated, and that the government must begin collecting consistent and reliable data on the now-massive FIFO workforce.

“FIFO exists because it is optimal for resource companies. The AMWU believes Western Australia should be bold in making it optimal for workers too.”

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